Assessing Marine Treaties

Figure 2a

The speed and scale of human impacts on marine species, such as climate change and exploitation for international markets, coupled with a poor regulatory regime and lack of enforcement, make it especially difficult to protect marine species beyond areas of national jurisdiction. Yet as the number of multilateral treaties continues to grow, the declining state of the world’s oceans suggest that these treaties are largely failing to fulfill their missions and achieve meaningful protection. Here, an analysis of all multilateral treaties governing activities related to oceans is provided. A range of issues is examined including efficacy, geographic and taxonomic distribution, and other factors that facilitate or inhibit conservation. Since 1882, 103 countries have signed 265 multilateral treaties related to the management of marine resources. The majority of treaties (51%) deal with fisheries, 30% deal with pollution, 4% marine mammals and 15% deal with other topics. In terms of factors that may predict efficacy, 65% of marine treaties have secretariats, 50% have scientific mandates, and 13% have enforcement mechanisms; only 9% have all three. Given the context of the United Nations General Assembly’s new commitment to manage human activity and its impact on common resources on the high seas, it is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses – individually and cumulatively – of existing binding marine agreements.

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